I’ll be honest: I’m not really sure who this guide is for. The hardcore beer nerds coming in for the Forager Brewing Co. release and Gathering in the Wood Beer Fest already know they’re heading for places like Forager, Horus Aged Ales, Other Half, and every place that has a super rare, limited barrel-aged beer. The Instagram-obsessed know what gets them the clicks and the clout they need to subsist on.
But maybe I’ll make a recommendation that a beer aficionado might not think about. I am, after all, basically the craft beer beat reporter for Rochester, having lived here before Forager was more than a gutted building. Plus, I’m quite intimate with the Minnesota beer scene, having written about it for eight years. I’ve even helped brew – in very small ways – at Forager and Little Thistle (shout out to Forager head brewer and co-owner Austin Jevne, assistant brewers Zack Dunbar, Paul Metz, and TJ, and former assistant brewer Nick Strenke, and Little Thistle head brewer and co-founders Steve and Dawn Finnie), so I know just how much care they put into every brew.
They’ve all worked incredibly hard on this fest. Whether a hardcore craft beer fan or just an enthusiast who dabbles here and there, I’m sure this guide is going to help you get the most out of the event.
My only actual tip? Make sure to keep a list with three things: beers you have to try, ranked; beer you maybe want to try, ranked; and beer you have already had.
Now then, let’s go.
Have to try
I reside in the same neighborhood as Forager – Kutzky. That means I get to have a lot of their beer, and their top two offerings on Saturday – Maple Nillerzzzzz and Coffee Baby Sherpa – have actually been available before (kind of).
I had the first iteration of Maple Nillerzzzzz at Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest in 2018, and it made another appearance this year. And though the memory is a little hazy, I had Baby Barrel Sherpa with both chocolate and coffee in 2016, back when small batches of barrel-aged beers were put on tap for members to consume.
Sadly, that membership went away. It was nice getting a member bottle of Forager’s best barrel-aged stout to date, Magnus, and then being able to line up for a second one – even if one of my bottles was, unfortunately when opened a month or so later, filled with a metallic off-flavor. My second bottle was, as the beer was countless times on tap, simply divine.
Gathering in the Woods, Forager’s first barrel-aged sour, is a magnificent mixture of raspberry and cherry. Austin gave it to me when the brewery was still being built out. I was writing about the new Rochester breweries opening – Forager, Grand Rounds, and LTS – for Growler Magazine. I thought, “Oh, this will be like most breweries just starting out and getting used to making beer.”
And then I was blown away. Even before they opened, Forager and Jevne were doing great things. To have people line up nearly a full 24 hours for a bottle of this (OK, the barrel-aged stouts, Crema and batch two Nillerzzzzz, but still) is exactly where Jevne and this brewery ought to be.
So, long story short? Forager needs to be in your top three, but you may have already had some of it before, or just grabbed bottles of the other three beers on tap. But even if you don’t think much of saisons, try Forager’s. Jevne is a huge fan of the style, and yes, his saisons have been intimate with a barrel.
I don’t want anyone to think I’m being biased or dishonest by putting both of these at the top of the list. But fair warning, I helped as part of Steve Finnie’s taste panel when seeing how the Belgian Dubbel aged on cherries and in two separate barrels and stainless steel was doing. He and Adam Frederickson of the soon-to-open Thesis Brewery were the main collaborators on that beer, and I have to say it is tasting really good if you like cherry, oak, plum, and some tartness.
The PB&J beer (shown fermenting below) should be a crowd-pleaser based on past peanut butter stouts Steve has brewed. Plus, Garth Brooks is some solid haze. Not only does it have the melon and mandarin orange from galaxy and nelson sauvin hops, but a nice bitter note to it that gives it more of a twisting narrative for your taste buds.
PB&J is new to me, as is the Key Lime Pie variant of Foreign Culture, Steve’s kettle sour series. All of them have been low ABV (think 3-4 percent) and full of over-fruited goodness. This one should be no different.
Horus Aged Ales
If you know Horus Aged Ales, you know you’re going there right away. If you don’t know them, you need to get to them straight away. Proper Dose is one of the beers being poured, and it’s a doozy. I had it in November, and the huge adjunct stout tastes like a Werther’s caramel hard candy. Straight butterscotch Nana would appreciate. Some cocoa powder and hazelnut round it out.
I haven’t had the other beer going on tap, Deepest Shade, but it’s a French oak barrel-aged stout with hazelnuts and Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee. A pound of that coffee cost about $50 at a very good coffee shop my wife and I stopped at while in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. We still regret not buying a bag of it.
Don’t sleep on Horus; it will go quickly.
I’ve never not loved a hazy beer from Other Half. Double Dry Hopped Green Power and Double Dry Hopped Double Mosaic Daydream will not last. People are already excited to try these haze bombs out of a keg to see how they differ from the cans they usually trade for.
I have waited in so many Pulpit lines. First off, the Pulpit crew – from the front staff to the brew staff – are excellent people. Second, they make some great barrel-aged stouts.
I’ve only disliked one of Pulpit’s barrel-aged stouts (and even then it was well made), so I firmly believe I’ll enjoy Right on Time.
What is it? Well, it’s a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with peanut butter, malted milk balls, roasted peanuts, and cocoa. It’s what you’ve come to expect from the Decorah darlings, and one of the top-tier breweries in the area. Oh, and the sour they are bringing along is an absolute peach bomb with a nice bit of funky tartness to even your palate out.
I’ve had a lot of Untitled Art beer. For me it is either hit or miss. I haven’t had its barrel-aged version of the Hazelnut Imperial Stout, but have heard good things. The base beer is so sweet and full of hazelnuts that a barrel seems perfect to add complexity.
The other one seems to be a blend of Coconut Cream Pie Blonde Stout and the Hazelnut, then thrown in barrels. Why not?! Definitely check them out.
While the copy is a bit different in places, I believe the Elk Grove, Ill., (just east of Schuamberg and just south of the wonderful Mitsuwa Japanese food marketplace) brewery is bringing its barrel-aged version of Smells Like Bean Spirit.
It will also have a fruit beer with strawberry, lactose, and mosaic hops to balance their offerings out.
A buddy of mine lives just north of Mikerphone in Chicagoland across from a beer store that gets many of its beers – and super rare drops from places like the highly-coveted Hop Butcher For the World. While I don’t love any brewery’s entire portfolio, I can say that I love a lot of what Mikerphone puts out. It’s just too bad one of their IPAs didn’t make it up!
This Lowertown St. Paul brewery has been heralded as one of Minnesota’s best since it opened. I generally like everything the brewery does, even if I don’t always love the beer on tap. However, I can say that I absolutely love Double Dry Hopped Shooter McGavin.
Now this is going to sound weird, but it’s the citra hops. Specifically, the fact that the beer has a subtle cat pee aroma, followed by a citrus flavor burst. OK. If you don’t think cat pee is appealing, you can be fancy and say black currant or catty. But for me, cat pee aroma is a sign of the hops being used very well.
As for the stouts, they’re hit or miss for me. But when they are on, they are going to provide a syrupy mouthfeel, and a combo of adjunct and barrel that work together in boozy harmony. I can’t say that’s the case for Ice Cream Social, as I haven’t had it, but I expect it to be great and gone quickly. Ice Cream Social is a barrel-aged stout with strawberry, vanilla, cocoa, and marshmallow. Yes, it is supposed to mimic Neapolitan ice cream.
Probably the brewery that deserves even more praise for its hazy beers, Blackstack is bringing its flagship hazy IPA. The twist? It’s been triple dry hopped with sabro and galaxy. Expect yummy fruit salad, melon, and peach.
The brewery has also been getting rave reviews on its thick, fruited, sour beers. Mixed Metaphors, a Popsicle style Berliner with blackberry, passion fruit, pineapple, pomegranate, pink guava, and milk sugar ought to be as delicious as past concoctions.
Other notes (because I’m tired of typing)
Olvalde Brewing makes some interesting and different beers (and I don’t mean they just throw an adjunct in and call it a day, but will make an amazing sour lager).
Une Année makes great sours and hazy. They’re bringing a sour beer and a stout, but the stout should also be top-tier.
Keepsake is the place to go for wild (get it, because they make Wild?!) cider outside the norms of cider.
Jackie O’s Bourbon Oil of Aphrodite is a must-try beer.
Surly Chroma Key is pleasantly surprising with its blueberry and basil combo. I seem to be the only one who loves it. They’ll also have Pancake Party, which has been making the fest rounds. It has a lot of maple from what I hear.
Fair State’s Time Debt is one of my favorite dark sours. It has a Cherrywood smoke, vanilla, and bitter cocoa aroma and flavor, but the flavor also has some blackberry jam and a berry-tart finish.
Bent Paddle Double Shot Double Black is a great barrel-aged stout.
Steel Toe Before the Dawn is underrated. They call it a black barleywine, but it’s essentially a barrel-aged stout that rested in rye whiskey barrels. It has a heavy roasted flavor, big rye note, and a nicely sweet, subtly woody, and boozy finish. A perfect beer for me in 2016.
Finnegans has some new beer that sounds good at the fest. Biere De Mars, a beer aged in blackberry whiskey barrels sounds very tasty.
Modist is always interesting, hitting that point home with its foeder-fermented Italian style pilsner.
LTS has two barrel-aged beers. Another local brewery, LTS makes some good beers, and the dark sour aged in bourbon barrels and golden strong aged in tequila barrels should not be missed.
Funk Factory is well known for good reason – the sours rock (seriously; seek out The Last Four Winters in Wisconsin). They have two beers coming, with Draft Frampaars sounding very interesting thanks to its use of spent purple raspberries.
Off Color Dino S’mores is a fun beer.
Drekker will have Slang Du Jour, its first release in the new Sour à la Mode series at the fest. If you don’t know them, they are a much-loved brewery.
And finally, August Schell makes seriously good sours. Not enough people drink them. Don’t make that mistake.